Introspection in GraphQL

Ignacio Chiazzo
4 min readFeb 28, 2019


Yesterday I was asked what my two favourite features of GraphQL are. My answer was Introspection and fetching only the data that you need. Others mentioned the characteristic of being strongly-typed and the easy way to be backward compatible. I was so surprised that no one said Introspection, so I decided to talk about what it is and how it is used.

As a developer, we are constantly consuming new APIs. We often spend a lot of time reading the documentation (frequently out of date) and finding which resources are available. Imagine if the API would provide a tool that tells you which resources you can get/modify and how to do it. It would make things much easier for the consumer and for developers!

Introspection is the ability to query which resources are available in the current API schema. Given the API, via introspection, we can see the queries, types, fields, and directives it supports.

The introspection system defines __Schema, __Type, __TypeKind, __Field, __InputValue, __EnumValue, and __Directive which are introspective queries. Note that all of them are preceded by two underscores exclusively used by GraphQL’s introspection system. In every server that provides a GraphQL API, we should be able to introspect queries.


The type __Schema is the one that defines the Schema the API provides. Its type is defined as the following:

Schema type definition

It returns which types the Schema has (types), the queryType, the Schema’s entry-point for queries, the mutationType, and subscriptionType (similar to queryType but for Mutations and Subscriptions, respectively), the directives available.

To illustrate, let us look at this example using the Github API and GraphiQL.

On the left, we asked for the types defined on the Schema. On the right, we got all the types available on the Github API (Try it!), such as User, Actor, Repository, specifying the name, kind, and descriptions.

The following example shows us the rest of the fields within the __Schema type.


The __type represents the types defined in the system. We can query the type of an object and get its information.

GraphiQL querying the type of the User using Github API v4 (Try it!)


GraphQL supports type name introspection at any point within a query by using the meta‐field __typename: String! when querying against any Object, Interface, or Union. It returns the name of the object type currently being queried.

Popular clients like Apollo and Relay use this to cache on the client side. For instance, Apollo generates the cache key of the object based on its __typename and id.


Another topic that comes “for free” by using Introspection is deprecations. GraphQL fields indicate whether or not they are deprecated along with their reason.

GraphiQL querying the type of the Organization using Github API v4 (Try it!)

GraphQL makes it easy for developers to add a description to each field, deprecate a field, and add a reason for deprecation. Additionally, Introspection allows developers to create fancy documentation pages or use IDEs like GraphiQL (used in this post), making it very easy for consumers to browse the documentation.

Another tool that implements Introspection is Graphql-Voyager which introspects APIs like Shopify Storefront, Github, and Yelp. It displays the APIs as a Graph like the following picture.

GraphQL Voyager using Shopify Storefront API

Although Introspection is a massive advantage for developers and consumers, developers must be cautious about what things are “introspectable.” Sometimes, we don’t want to expose which types the API provides to everyone. For example, you might expect that non-admin users cannot see administrator actions, so we should hide those functionalities. Another example would be when you’re releasing a feature that you only expose to a specific amount/type of users. There are different approaches to solve this, like using different schemas. GraphQL Ruby Gem solved this problem by introducing a new concept called Visibility (See this interesting discussion for more information).

I hope you like this post, and if you are ever asked, “What is the best thing about GraphQL” I hope you have “Introspection” within your options. (If you have any questions